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Five Smooth Stones for David

The Book of I Samuel in the Christian Old Testament (simply Samuel in the Hebrew Bible) relates the story of David and Goliath. Back about three thousand years ago, the Philistines sent a well-armed giant named Goliath to threaten the Hebrews with utter destruction. A young shepherd boy named David was the only one among the People of God that day with the courage to stand up to the menace.

In the 17th chapter of Samuel, the text says that David, foregoing any armor, took his staff and his sling and “chose five smooth stones from a stream” and placed them in his pouch. And then he strode out alone to face Goliath.
You probably remember the rest of the story. In the Bible, giants don’t usually win and so it is in this case. Goliath is vanquished by a slingshot and a victorious David lives on to become king another day.

Readers through the centuries have puzzled over those five smooth stones David chose from the stream that day. Why five? Why smooth stones? Or are we thinking too concretely? Is there a deeper metaphor here?

The 20th century theologian, James Luther Adams, loved this story. And back in his day, he knew there were still giants around to fight. He thought about David’s stones and decided there were five attributes that us moderns might use against the encroaching dangers of the contemporary world.

Adams believed that revelation is not closed but rather open and continuous, and therefore we might be saved by Hope. He believed that human relationships should always be consensual and never coerced, and therefore we might be saved by Love. He also knew that, as people of God, we bear an obligation to work toward a just and loving community. Therefore, we might be saved by Justice. Adams denied the immaculate conception of virtue and knew it was up to us to face the struggles of life; therefore, we might be saved by Courage. And as he looked at life, he saw that the resources are already available to us to achieve meaningful changes and thus we have every reason for ultimate optimism. Therefore, we might be saved by Joy.

Some people believe the stories in the Bible to be historically true and to actually have happened way back when. Others treat the Bible more as poetry than as history, and believe that the stories must be considered metaphor for the human condition rather than as newspaper reports.

For instance, one might imagine a metaphorical modern-day David, not as a poor shepherd walking out across a Palestinian field to slay a Philistine giant, but as a billionaire businessman armed with the smooth stones of political power, media savvy, and nuclear codes, striding onto a world stage to do battle against an entrenched globalist elite.

An alternative vision of today’s David might feature, instead of a boy with a slingshot, a young girl wearing a pink knit cap and carrying only a small placard with an anti-oppression slogan scrawled across it. When, as happened last weekend, this vision is replicated around the world and becomes millions of girls and women, the five smooth stones look more like Adams’ stones of Hope, Love, Justice, Courage, and Joy.

Competing metaphors, neither of which could possibly have been foreseen by the authors of the biblical text, but both front and center in our news reports today. If - as some believe is destined to happen - Jesus were to return to this earth sooner rather than later, which metaphor of the new David do you imagine he might embrace?